Innovative clinician brings interdisciplinary background to Health Justice Clinic
Allison Korn began her legal career at The Bronx Defenders, where she represented parents at risk of losing custody of their children as part of an interdisciplinary team of attorneys, investigators, social workers, and advocates. The experience applying the New York public defender organization’s model of “holistic defense,” Korn says, taught her the value of collaboration, creativity, and “trying to push against systems and find justice in places where it doesn’t seem like justice exists,” and it has informed her subsequent career as both a lawyer and a teacher.
Korn becomes director of the Health Justice Clinic in July after serving as assistant dean for experiential education and director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic at UCLA School of Law. She succeeds Clinical Professor Allison Rice, who is retiring after 28 years on the Duke Law faculty.
Known as an innovator in clinical pedagogy and experiential curriculum design, Korn oversaw the rapid growth of opportunities for hands-on learning at UCLA, which has over the last five years added more than a dozen clinics and practicum courses over the last five years and the expansion of trial advocacy and externship programs. She serves on the Best Practices Committee of the Clinical Legal Education Association, and during the pandemic, she led workshops for the American Association of Law Schools on adaptive teaching methods and confronting structural barriers perpetuated by the legal profession through clinical legal teaching and practice.
“Allison is a respected leader in the field of clinical legal education with a strong and visible commitment to centering social justice and race in the curriculum,” said Clinical Professor Michelle Nowlin JD/MA ’92, co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, who led the search committee. “Her practice and clinical background are grounded in the varied causes of health inequities — such as food insecurity, environmental injustice, and lack of affordable housing — making her uniquely qualified to bring an interdisciplinary approach to our Health Justice Clinic.”
The Health Justice Clinic offers students the opportunity to develop practical lawyering skills through direct representation of low-income clients facing serious illness. It has been providing free legal assistance to indigent clients with HIV since 1996 and began serving clients with cancer in 2015. Supervised by clinical faculty, students help clients access Social Security and private disability benefits, develop end-of-life documents such as wills, powers-of-attorney, advanced directives, and those relating to guardianship for their children, and address claims relating to insurance, privacy, and discrimination.
“Allison is a respected leader in the field of clinical legal education with a strong and visible commitment to centering social justice and race in the curriculum.”— Clinical Professor Michelle Nowlin
Korn’s interest in public interest law and clinical education was galvanized during law school at the University of Mississippi as a co-founder of the Student Hurricane Network, which organized student trips to the Gulf Coast to help people whose lives had been upended by Hurricane Katrina. The trips were her first experience serving clients, being part of a legal team, and connecting theory she had learned in the classroom to the practice of law on the ground. “I really responded to the emergency room quality of direct action and saw that I could have an immediate impact,” she says.
After graduation, she joined the new family defense practice at The Bronx Defenders, where she represented clients facing child welfare proceedings in family court. Later, at National Advocates for Pregnant Women, she litigated on behalf of women who experienced chemical dependencies while pregnant, fought legislation aimed at pregnant women and parents, and led a grassroots campaign against an anti-abortion referendum in Mississippi.
Korn’s academic career began when she was recruited to work in the revitalized clinical program at her alma mater. While there, she designed and taught Legal Problems of Indigence, a seminar and practicum examining the intersection of poverty and the legal system, an experience that would lead her to embark on a career in clinical legal education.
“I loved being in the classroom,” she says. “I felt like teaching gave me the same sort of rush, the same sort of sense of accomplishment and impact that I had when I was in court.”
During a two-year fellowship at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Korn taught and supervised students in the school’s Family Law Clinic. The clinic provided direct services to clients in divorce, custody, and adoption matters, but also undertook advocacy projects in the community and at the Maryland state legislature. As much as she enjoyed teaching students to stand up in court, though, Korn relished the opportunity to help them contextualize their direct legal work with broader advocacy strategies that could effect systemic change. That realization led her, following the fellowship, to accept the position at the UCLA clinic.
“This was an opportunity to build on individual lawyering experiences and collaborate with communities to tackle the longstanding problems that undergird their involvement with the justice system,” she says, adding that food law and policy lacks the polarization that can be an impediment to change in other practice areas in which she has worked. “We all have a story about food, we all have a connection to food — once everybody’s at the table acknowledging these connections, it’s easier to have challenging conversations.”
Korn describes the clinic as doing “integrated advocacy” in which students weave together different strategies to resolve a problem and address food law and policy as it intersects with health, labor, immigration, the environment, criminal justice, and other issues. So in addition to drafting legislation and doing policy or statutory analysis, students partner with community groups or nonprofits, often within communities that have been neglected or discriminated against, so that they can see the legal work through the lens of people it affects the most. The clinic’s projects have ranged from reforming school meals programs, reducing food waste, and improving access to healthy foods to supporting farmworkers and domestic laborers in the food industry, encouraging farmers to embrace safer and more sustainable agricultural practices, and holding corporations accountable for dangerous pesticide use.
“Allison has an expansive view of health, and thereby an expansive view of health justice,” said Barak Richman, the Katharine T. Bartlett Professor of Law and professor of business administration and a scholar of health care economics and policy. “She is at the very front lines of health policy — finding ways to improve population health in a world where wealth is criminally unequal and where resources are egregiously misallocated. Perhaps best of all, she understands how much lawyers and good cause lawyering can help.”
Korn says she is excited to build on the “deep and rich legacy” of Duke’s Health Justice Clinic, the first in the modern era of clinical legal education at the Law School, as well as the clinic’s history of pairing direct legal services with impact work at the local, regional, and national levels. She also hopes to continue the clinic’s interdisciplinary approach and engagement with both faculty at the Law School and across Duke who are interested in health justice and related areas.
“I’m thrilled about joining Duke,” she says. “The more I understood the history of the Health Justice Clinic and got to know the extraordinary faculty here that engage in health law, it occurred to me that the most meaningful work I’ve done as a practitioner and law teacher has been in advancing health justice. My clinic projects with the greatest impact on students and client communities have been those concentrated on health and health justice. These projects aspire to make it easier for individuals and communities to access food, access health care, and be free from environmental harms. They’ve also been designed to attack the systemic and structural issues that have long-exacerbated barriers to access.”
“I can’t wait to leverage these experiences and continue the Health Justice Clinic’s commitment to serving the community and doing justice — to help students learn to resolve their individual clients’ immediate situations while developing strategies to facilitate transformative change.”